Academic essay writing: pointers and resources

I recently learned a highschool friend is now pursuing a BA with #AthaU, and in response to their stated frustration with academic essay writing, I offered some pointers and resources. These might be useful for undergrad students generally – I know frustration with academic writing drives whole black markets (and I boo those black markets!1) – so voilà. (I’ve made some comments less #AthaU-specific, like the discussion of the campus student writing service.)

Here are some various tips and resources for effective, successful academic essay writing.

First, here’s the article by Cory Doctorow on writing for 20 minutes a day; it’s worth a read for his reasoning on this process, and for the related tips that can make the 20 minutes as productive as possible.

Next, something I teach students is writing as a four-stage process: Drafting, Revising, Editing, and Proofreading. Sometimes the stages overlap, but understanding the importance of each stage means two things:
1) leaving enough time to follow this process (not leaving the whole writing job to the last minute); and
2) giving yourself enough time between stages to walk away from the work, for at least a day or two, so that you return to it with refreshed perspective (and so that you don’t burn out trying to push a project through to completion)

For any given essay assignment, you should try asking your tutor or instructor if you can send them your working thesis for the essay, or a point-form outline of the essay, or both. Some instructors welcome this consultation on process; others see it as conflict of interest (i.e. they can’t mark something they’ve helped put together in the first place). Do not ask an instructor to look at a complete first draft (unless this is required in the assignment instructions) – that would be a direct conflict of interest. But it is always worth asking if you can consult with the instructor on your initial thesis and approach to arguing it. (It could help the instructor to look more favourably on the final submission too.)

As a student, you can and should take advantage of your university’s student writing services office. This kind of service provides one-on-one feedback and coaching; the service works best once you have a draft essay for them to look at. Most universities’ writing service offices (like #AthaU’s Write Site) also have websites of their own that are full of tips and references for effective academic writing.

AU’s Write Site, for its part, has lots of publicly accessible essay writing tips and resources. Some examples you might find helpful:
Writing Resources:
Writing Genres and Samples:
Research Writing:

Getting the most out of your university’s writing coaching and consulting means contacting that office earlier instead of later. They’re sometimes quite busy, especially around common deadlines (e.g. midterm time, and ends of semesters).

You can also use a free online service called Paper Rater to check your own work for grammar, style, etc.:

I can’t recommend highly enough a blog by a dedicated academic writing teacher; it’s called Explorations of Style and it covers just about anything and everything you want to know about academic writing, from macro-level uses and purposes to micro-level details of style and composition:

Lastly, here are some sample rubrics of standard expectations for undergrad essay composition. One is at the Write Site:
The other is one I’ve adapted from my own undergrad learning and early TA work; it’s more specific to writing essays on literature, but some principles work across the curriculum:

I hope you find some of these tips and resources useful. If so, please share a comment, if you can spare a moment for it, to let me know which – if any – proved particularly helpful. (Or to alert me to others you’ve found useful.)

1. As I expected, this post is drawing traffic from would-be “essay writing service” vendors – that is, vendors of academic fraud and plagiarism. As a teacher of writing, I categorically condemn and actively prosecute plagiarism: the fraudulent presentation of another’s unacknowledged work as one’s own. Plagiarism is academic misconduct and the student who attempts it incurs serious penalization, from a failing mark to expulsion from studies. Writing is a transferable, in-demand skill: learn it, don’t outsource it.

2 responses to “Academic essay writing: pointers and resources

  1. Hi Mark, thanks for this! I would have thought I’d have already seen most of this stuff, but apparently I hadn’t. I particularly like the Cory Doctorow article, and the Explorations of Style page.

  2. Knowing all of the does and don’ts in writng an essay in university abroad is a good advantage for those foreign students to have a greater chance to be a part on that certain university they wanted to stay for their study. You details seems short but it was full of precise information’s that totally be useful to learned.

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